23 May, 2014

How to organise stimulating study visits abroad

Recently a blog on the URBACT site gave away the secrets to do just that. From the many European projects that they have run, thematic pole manager Ivan Tosics drew up a blog post to inspire others. Creating opportunities to interact with each other and the hosts, involving all participants, stimulating discussions and initiatives: these are just some of the tips.
Study visits come in all shapes and sizes, with most visits lasting 3 to 5 days and with groups that vary in size from 10 to 15 to 25 people. Many study visits (or study trips or study tours for that matter) amount to a factfinding mission, but it can be so much more than that.
International study visits broaden our horizons, challenge our understanding of ourselves, and help us understand those whose cultures are different from our own. As such they are an invaluable tool in internationalisation. Often visitors prepare themselves by researching the topic of interest in their own country and reviewing their own practice before the actual visit takes place.
Ideally these study visits consist of three components, namely academic, cultural and social exchange. Here are some of the objectives of the majority of study visits: to learn on common themes of interest, to develop mutual understanding, to provide opportunity to reflect and discuss (innovative) practices elsewhere and/or to provide opportunities for networking.
For students' learning the aim is often to compare and to contrast (and sometimes to benchmark). 
A familiar approach to attain these goals is to have site visits to NGOs and other organisations and / or to provide a mixture of expert inputs and discussion.

With the following tips you can take the design and the organisation of a study visit to the next level and provide a positive, enriching and lasting experience.
Here are the 6 "golden nuggets" that are listed in the blog post that was mentioned above:

1. Increase Innovation Potential With Unusual Circumstances
2. Involve Participants In Collective, Playful Actions
3. Organise Dynamic Presentations Of Interesting Practices
4. Ask Partners To Identify Innovative Small Case Practices
5. Make Space For Two-way Knowledge Transfer With The Hosts Of Study Visits
6. Make Room For Micro-consultingask international visitors to act as experts, giving advice on questions of interests to the hosts
Especially, this last tip is definitely an interesting one from an international perspective. For it requires visitors to put themselves in the shoes of the hosts and to relate the topics to the contexts they are familiar with at home. This thinking exercise is bound to produce some incredibly creative ideas that can inspire the hosts to regard the issue at hand in another light and harvest multiple perspectives and solutions from a diverse audience. 

Elsewhere on this blog City as Text was mentioned as an innovative method to uncover and discover urban areas off the beaten track in a surprising manner. The CaT pedagogy emphasizes the strength of experiential or active learning by inviting  participants to "read a city as a text" by having a walkabout through urban districts and debriefing sessions to follow up. This CaT method incorporates a number of these golden nuggets turning a study visit into a successful and stimulating experience. 

20 May, 2014

Speaking of Europe

Adapted from a text by a guest blogger who participated in the YiA training course called Speakers of Europe

Last December Arthur Meenks, Zina Monteiro and Inge Arends participated in a Youth in Action training course that was held in Palermo around the upcoming European elections the following year.

Within the training course we were taught about the rising issues in Europe and the importance of voting. We also received tools to increase the participation of European youth in the upcoming elections in May 2014.

One of our assignments was disseminating the knowledge we gained during the Youth in Action Project.

Last semester one of the subjects within the Cultural Social Work course programme (CMV) was Politics. We decided to take the opportunity to arrange a debate and share our knowledge with our fellow students.

First we gave a presentation on the different parties within the European Parliament. After sharing these basic facts we addressed current issues in Europe and debated on different views and perspectives. This made it easier for students to decide which political point of view they actually have. This was meant to support them to make a decision on how to vote on the 22nd of May.

The last issue we raised during this debate was the question ‘Are you going to vote on the 22nd of May?’ and to our surprise and satisfaction everybody agreed on the importance of voting: mission completed!

The pictures shown here were shot during the training course in Palermo.

As a more permanent outcome of the training course, the team prepared a game-book, which is a free and easy to use tool for anyone wishing to promote European civic responsibility or any other issues regarding voting, participation or citizenship. Anyone wanting to find inspiration, ideas, good practices, practical tools, knowledge, information, motivation, have a look at the final handbook that can be downloaded here.

Feel free to share it as widely as you can, and why not like the corresponding Facebook page to stay in touch with the team !

06 May, 2014

Visiting Copenhagen as a Rotterdam student of social work

Adapted in English from a student’s report

It was a well founded decision for me to go for the option of Copenhagen as my destination for the study trip abroad within the framework of the Global Social Work module. Why ? The care system in Scandinavian countries is running ahead of our Dutch system and by comparing this there is much to be learned.
After a short flight we landed at Copenhagen Kastrup airport and immediately I noticed that on the one hand people looked different and on the other hand that Denmark is a rich country. We smoothly transferred to our base in Copenhagen Downtown Hostel,  a hostel unlike many others, characterized by creative decorations using vivid colours and wood, which enhance its cosy and relaxed atmosphere.
Our first visit was to the municipality of Roskilde. On arriving there, my immediate impression was that Roskilde is much different from Copenhagen, much poorer in fact.
We went there to learn how Danish social workers provide services to problem families and how they work with safety plans, a method that turned out to compare well with the way Youth Care in the Netherlands operates. These social workers take a problem solving attitude and apply a number of methods to empower families to ensure that children can stay in their nuclear families.
The next day Christiania was on the programme, a society within a society that started out as a hippie commune in the seventies of the last century. As soon as I entered the area I noticed the graffiti, the murals, the creative, liberated and relaxing atmosphere. It was very interesting to observe how this community has developed from a social experiment into a small free state, with “a green light district” and with all kinds of different homes, designed by the people themselves. In this community each individual has a role to play in taking care of the area and the wellbeing of the community.
This area is not just for its inhabitants, many others like street people, pensioners, immigrants and clients from social institutions find sanctuary here. Interestingly, Christiania has its own economy that turns out to be profitable as well.
The day after this we went to Kofoedskole, an independent, non-profit humanitarian organization that provides help in the shape of a school where jobless people learn a trade. People using the service at Kofoed's School are called students rather than (service) users or clients. Here all activities are geared towards enhancing self esteem and personal development. Much of this is done by offering all kinds of workshops, varying form car repair shop to learning Spanish. The aim is not just to help the 3000 students but also to support them to take responsibility for their own efforts. In order to increase their ability to act themselves, students working in some of the workshops can use for example the Kofoeddollars they earn to buy items such as food and drinks within the school canteen.
And then we went on to Projekt Udenfor, one of the few outreach organisations based in Copenhagen. Projekt Udenfor  is a private foundation which combines active social street work with training and research in approaches to homelessness and social marginalisation. They carry out practical social work on the street, to help homeless people who for one reason or another have lost contact with the official social security system and/or have lost their personal network and are not supported in any other way. We heard a very inspiring story from a psychiatrist who had now found his calling here in working with the homeless people.
Looking back on all these experiences, I can say that it was a very educational and enjoyable study trip. Both the organisation as well as the programme were very good. We were a highly motivated group of students and the teaching staff that guided us during the trip were pleasant company to be with. We’ve really been able to make good comparisons between Copenhagen and Rotterdam. I’m glad we had this international experience.   
Photo credits go to C. Numan